Medal of Honor: Frontline
Medal of Honor: Frontline was a bold step in gaming as a whole. Throwing you into one of the bloodiest conflicts in modern history is a hell of a first level that sticks with many players, even today. With the HD release in 2010, many seasoned fans got to enjoy the same intensity they felt so long ago with polished graphics. Explosively leading into one of the most storied, and simply fun, World War II games of all time.
Max Payne 3
“Things had gone from fine to fucked up in about a second.” A line that nearly defines the series as a whole. Max Payne 3 starts out with Max catching you up on how life has been, as well as explaining his new job as a bodyguard of an influential Brazilian family. The first level starts simply enough, with believable conversations and character introductions, but very quickly falls apart. A kidnapping is set in motion that puts Max on a path of revenge as well as overcoming his own demons. Making for a truly entertaining game that is hard to put down.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
True to Elder Scrolls tradition, Oblivion starts the player out as a prisoner of an unexplained crime. After getting harassed by your good friend across the hall, the Emperor himself shows up trying to escape assassination. Once he realizes your fates are intertwined, however, he trusts you with the key to saving the world. This is what makes Oblivion’s intro so much more memorable than the other Elder Scrolls games, the fact that it actually puts you into the action and makes you a pivotal piece in stopping the growing evil in the world.
Resident Evil 4
Leave it to a near perfect game to have a near perfect first level. The village from Resident Evil 4 is one of the most fun, and equally unsettling, levels in gaming. It introduces you to the enemies, the setting (which totally isn’t Spain), and it slowly explains why everyone wants to mess your day up. With the HD release in 2014, it only got better. The detail and eeriness became more chilling, as well as incredibly gorgeous. Leaving players with a newfound dread in familiar levels.
The Walking Dead, Season 1
Telltale’s The Walking Dead gives you about 5 minutes before being one of the most intense emotional roller coasters in gaming. The first level places you as Lee as he escapes prison, death, zombies, more death, and a royally pissed off undead babysitter. Which leads to meeting a young girl that just so happens to be one of the biggest sweethearts gamers have experienced in a long time. Their connection only grows stronger, coinciding with the player becoming just as attached in what is one of the greatest narratives in entertainment as a whole.
Fallout 3 has one of the most unique, as well as badass first levels in gaming. You’re born, and as you take your first breaths, you are greeted by Liam Neeson. It fathers a unique experience of character creation and tutorial. As you are jumped ahead through the years of your life, you learn how to move, fight, talk, and set your skills. Culminating in a mad dash through the only home you’ve known to escape and find your father. The game manages to create a very immersive world in which you truly care about your decisions. Or maybe you just run through slaughtering everyone, you awful person.
Mass Effect 2
You’re feeling good, you saved the universe, you’re the big bad hero. These are the feelings players had going into Mass Effect 2. Those last 3 minutes before your ship gets attacked in the first level. You jettison all your friends to safety, and then get completely obliterated in the vacuum of space. This leads to you being completely rebuilt by Cerberus, which allows some great segues into the sequel. You get out of your two year coma amidst explosions and screaming, before gearing up and going back into murdering mode. This level has you saving everyone as you connect with crew members and get a great feel for the new control schemes. It’s a very fun, and incredibly informative, tutorial to a modern epic.
Bioshock did it right. With an immersive, Ayn Rand inspired world, unique concepts, as well as just enough scare factor to keep you on edge, Bioshock had an amazing first level. Start with a plane crash into the ocean, followed by happening upon a convenient lighthouse. You enter a pod that gives you breathtaking shots of Rapture. It seems like fairly normal place, until you arrive. You are instantly greeted by a twitchy, hook wielding drug addict, starting your adventure into an underwater hell.
Super Mario Bros.
Well, duh. With the most iconic music in the game industry, as well as one of the most recognizable tunes of all time. Super Mario Bros. World 1-1 is a first level screen everyone has seen. Even if you never played the game, you recognize the shot above. With the history of this game, as well as the impact it had on all of gaming, there is no way this couldn’t make the list.
The Last of Us
Proving that Naughty Dog isn’t afraid to pull on all of the heart strings, The Last of Us puts the player through one of the most stressful, disheartening first levels in memory. In a few minutes, you get attached to the perfectly written characters of Joel and his daughter, Sarah. Jump ahead and Sarah wakes up to find her father is missing. As you walk around the house, you realize something is very wrong. Seeing Joel frantically run back into the house, trying to explain everything as he shakily loads his gun, before shooting the crazed neighbor in front of you. As you realize it’s time to get out of town, you run into some heart pounding moments trying to leave. Finally, you’re gunned down by the very man you ran to for protection, leaving Joel wounded, but Sarah dead. You’re forced to watch as a father loses his only emotional attachment to the world. It’s a key moment that allows you to understand the character progression and overall coldness of Joel throughout the game.